Byron and Myrtle Carpenter settled in the Scott district in 1911, where they raised their family and farmed in the district for over 55 years. Photo from Ponoka Panorama History book

Reflections: The Carpenter family chose a new challenge in early Alberta

Looking back at early settlers to the Ponoka area in the early 1900s

By Mike Rainone for the News

Byron and Myrtle Carpenter and their infant daughter Elnora arrived in Ponoka in September of 1911.

The ambitious young couple had established their first homestead near Big Bend, Washington, where they planted their crops in the fine soil and volcanic ash, but were later wiped out when the land broke up, drifted, and blew away. Once here they purchased a quarter of land in the Scott School district from Byron’s brother Dan, on which they would begin their new farming adventure all over again, setting up their new homestead, buying livestock, and planting their crops, and would eventually buy two more quarters in the same adjacent area.

The Carpenter’s nearest neighbours in the newly established district located four miles east and five miles south of the thriving new Town of Ponoka were the Hibbards, Tom Flemings, Charlie Colemans, Huscrofts, Lawrences, and Lindemoods, all being very friendly, helpful, and always supportive of each other. They immediately found Alberta a very prolific place to live over four ever-changing and challenging seasons, taking advantage of the tremendous garden harvests and wild fruit and game, while canning hundreds of quarts of peas, corn, and beans, as well as seasonal wild strawberries, dewberries, blue-berries, Saskatoon’s, and raspberries. When the family grew tired of their steady veggie diet, they saved them for visitors or sold or traded them at the markets in Morningside (before the big fire) as well as in Ponoka.

A year after they settled in the district a son Max arrived and in the later years he and his sister Elnora on most occasions enjoyed making the four mile trip to the Scott School on horseback. During the rugged winters they always looked forward to the roaring fire at that tiny schoolhouse, which was in a large box heater and was great to warm up, as well as cook up some eggs and toast. On the last day of school in the summer they always had a ‘fun-day’ at ‘Berdine falls’ or on the ball diamonds, where throughout the year many a community family picnic and countless other social events and game were held, with most everyone coming out to enjoy the fun from all directions. Elnora Carpenter (Burfield) recalled in her delightful story in the Ponoka Panorama History book that her parents worked extremely hard, rising at 4 a.m. to milk 15 or so cows and feed the pigs and never retired until after midnight once all the chores were done. Her mother also faithfully helped her husband with all the outdoor and field work, driving four horses on the binder while he stooked and helped stack the hay and grain, which had to be done before it became buried in snow. There were no threshing machines in those rugged early days, and Elnora so fondly remembered that her mother and their lazy old tomcat trembled when the first big steam outfit arrived from the south and blew their noisy whistles. For a few days they were overwhelmed when the crew roared into the usually quiet Carpenter farm yard at noon hour in a wild turmoil of racks, horses, and shouting men, all hungry and looking for a hardy dinner. The industrious Mr. Carpenter later teamed up with his neighbour Mr. Lawrence to purchase a monster two-cylinder Case Tractor and Red River separator that they used for many years.

One of the milestones in that early era was when Byron Carpenter, Mr. Fleming, and Mr. J. M. Berdine were instrumental in getting the telephone into the Scott district, which was a great boon, especially in the winter and at harvest. With Mr. Lawrence on the Clive telephone line, an additional barbed wire fence line was run into the district with a phone on either end, which allowed free calls to Ponoka, as well as lots of friendly dickering back and forth on the price of grain, chickens, eggs, and all the rest. Following are only a few of the countless highlights and fondest memories of the Carpenter family during their successful and colorful lives out in the Scott district and in this area.

• In those very early days the Indian tribes would hold their annual ‘pow-wows’ across the river, and the gala event was always enjoyed by many visitors from Ponoka and surrounding districts. The friendly natives would find an open spot amongst the willows and aspens and park their wagons in a circle, and then in the evenings after the fires were lit, the lanterns hung, and the tom-toms were set up, the braves and chiefs would appear all decked out in their feathered headdresses and white buckskins, and with their colorful beadwork sparkling in the fire-light they would dance around the drum and later be joined by the ladies and some of the local visitors.

• Doctor Campbell had the only car in the district for a time, and the Carpenters were so happy when they purchased their first Model-T in 1917 and were able to make a trip all through the United States. Many people in the district loved going into Ponoka to watch the black and white movies and entertainment at the Empress Theatre, but before those noisy cars came along it was a long, dark, and scary trip home in the horse and buggy being serenaded by the coyoties. In 1927 the family packed up the tents, supplies, and the dog into the Model T and took another trip into the States to visit relatives and friends, but always longed for the old farm in Alberta, and returned in the summer of 1928.

• Byron Carpenter always loved to chat about a spell in January 1914 when the weather was so warm that he was able to shingle his barn in his shirtsleeves in the middle of winter. He also was an avid fisherman, would catch many fish in the middle Chain Lake, and recalled when he and neighbour Woods brought home a wagon box full of fish from the Battle River, which they cured in brine and canned.

Myrtle Carpenter passed away in February 1943 at the age of 59, and when Max took a job on a dairy farm near Calgary the original farm was sold. Byron bought an acreage on the outskirts of Ponoka and tried to raise sheep. Elnora and her husband Fred Burfield and their daughter Twila and son Stanley returned to the acreage to look after her father Byron until his passing in 1954. The Burfields sold the acreage and bought a farm in the Elkhorn district, where they continued to cherish quality time with old and new friends and share so many fond family memories from over 55 years spent on the grand old homestead south-east of Ponoka.

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